Confession: I am 24 years old and I only began to enjoy the simple sweetness of cherries one month ago.
I realize this fact may startle most of you.
My previous stance against cherries, I realized, was purely based on my experience with the jarred varietal of cherry - the ones found so promisingly perched on top of a child's ice cream sundae or floating at the bottom of a Shirley Temple.
Thinking back, we never really used cherries in any recipes in pastry school. Even when we received shipment upon shipment of these bright red beauties at the restaurant, as the other pastry cooks sampled by the handful, I resisted and dutifully returned to my cutting board.
But then, in a moment of true weakness, as I perused the farmer's market, I was greeted by a mound of cherries. As my camera captured their beauty, they seemed to beckon for me - try just one.
Into my mouth, I popped the most juicy, sweet little cherry. I am forever converted.
I brought home a quart of the beauties and began thinking of how I might want to prepare them.
My first thought, obviously, was a steaming, fruity pie. But, between long work hours and some one's distaste of fruit desserts, pies, unfortunately, go to waste around here.
So, instead, I began thinking about what flavors I would want to pair with the cherries. While keeping the cherries as the star of the show, I decided something with a crunchy, freshness - maybe even spiciness - would be wonderful for a summer day.
While mulling over how to achieve these accompanying flavors, I began creating a simple, sweet cherry jam.
Maybe it was the homey, unmistakable scent of the sugar caramelizing with fruit that instantly pointed me in the direction of a buttery shortbread as the perfect base for this summer jam.
With the addition of bright lemon zest, freshly milled black pepper and a sprinkling of turbinado sugar, the shortbread emerged from the oven a perfect match with the sweet cherry jam.
Upon assembling and tasting my creation, from the very first bite, the soft, sweet cherry jam paired seamlessly with the crunchy, buttery shortbread, instantly brightened by the lemon zest.
As the flavors lingered on my tongue, lazily melting away, the smooth, spiciness of the black pepper appeared, creating just enough heat to balance the sweetness of all the other components.
Cherry Jam with Lemon-Pepper Shortbread
from Allison M. Veinote
For the Jam
1 1/3 cup cherries, pitted and quartered
1/4 cup + 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1/2 cup cherries, pitted and quartered, divided
For the Lemon-Pepper Shortbread
4 ounces unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup confectioner's sugar
3/4 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon table salt
Zest of 1 lemon
1 cup all-purpose flour
Turbinado sugar, for sprinkling
For the Jam
Place 1 1/3 cup cherries and granulated sugar in saucepan. Stir to evenly combine.
Over high heat, stir cherries and sugar constantly, scraping the bottom of the pot to keep the sugar from burning. Stir until mixture is dark and thick, about 5 minutes.
Add 1/4 cup cherries to mixture, stirring constantly. Bring mixture back to a boil, about 30 seconds.
Add remaining 1/4 cup cherries, stirring constantly. Bring mixture to full boil, about 1 minute.
Immediately remove pot from stove and pour jam in clean bowl to cool. When jam has reached room temperature, cover and place in refrigerator.
For the Lemon-Pepper Shortbread
In stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream butter and confectioner's sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
Add vanilla, black pepper, salt and lemon zest. Paddle on medium speed until combined, about 30 seconds.
Add flour to mixture. Paddle on low speed until just combined.
Turn dough out onto counter and shape into rectangle with 1/4" thickness. Cover in plastic wrap; refrigerate at least 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Prepare cookie sheet with SilPat or parchment paper.
When dough is chilled, remove from refrigerator and unwrap. Using a 1.5" round cookie cutter, cut 12 rounds from the dough. Place on prepared cookie sheet and sprinkle with turbinado sugar.
Bake at 325 degrees until golden, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool on rack.
To serve: spoon desired amount of jam over shortbread.